Sunday, December 29, 2013

Amateur Travel History: Horwitz and Vowell

By Jeff Burns

            Winter’s here, and many people kind of slow down and travel less, but you can still enjoy some great travel history.  I recommend a couple of authors who are amateur historians.  They don’t have degrees in history and spend their days in archives and libraries doing research.  Instead, they travel and talk to people, and then they share their experiences with us in a way that’s both informative and entertaining.

            First, there’s Tony Horwitz.  Horwitz is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist by profession who spent years covering international events and conflicts before becoming an author.  He does his research and then sets out on his journey, but his gift is in drawing out detailed characterizations of the people he meets on the way.  He’s also very witty and intertwines his own adventures and misadventures with the adventures of his subject, while making connections between past and present. 

            Here are his books:

Baghdad Without a Mapis his journey through Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq immediately after the Gulf war.

In Blue Latitudes, he follows the voyages of Captain James Cook, the British discoverer of Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii.

A Voyage Long and Strangeis all about the discovery of the New World, from Columbus to the conquistadors who forged New Spain in Central and South America.

In Confederates in the Attic, Horwitz turns his attention to the Civil War, but he approaches the story from a unique perspective.  The story is really about the Civil War re-enactors that he camps with and lives with.
19th Century Cabin
His most recent book, Midnight Rising, is perhaps his most historical work.  It’s the story of abolitionist John Brown and his 1859 raid on the Harper’s Ferry federal arsenal, a pivotal event in the march to the Civil War.

            My second amateur historian recommendation is Sarah Vowell.  Vowell is an essayist and social commentator.  You may have heard her commentaries on NPR’s This American Life  or may have seen her occasional talk show appearances.  Or you may know her voice as that of the teenage daughter Violet in the movie The Incredibles.   She’s written several nonfiction books on American history and culture.  She doesn’t pretend to be an unbiased journalist, and her point of view comes across clearly in her work.  However, the history is spot on;  just be aware that you’re getting her interpretation of it.  Her interpretation can be hilarious, insightful, cynical, and enlightening.  At any rate, you will be entertained.

            Her books:

The Wordy Shipmatesis about the Pilgrims on the Mayflower and the first settlements in colonial Massachusetts, and how misleading our image of them is.

The  Partly Cloudy Patriot  addresses a wide range of topics from Rosa Parks to Gettysburg Address to Bill Clinton and many more.

Assassination Vacationis about Presidential assassins and would-be assasins.  Vowell makes a cross-country trip to see for herself sites related to the events.

Take the Cannoliis another collection of essays on a variety of topics, including the Trail of Tears which had a direct impact on her own family.

Trail of Tears Map
Her most recent work, Unfamiliar Fishes, tackles American imperialism, specifically the annexation of Hawaii. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Traveling Around the World with History

By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.

I love to travel and I love history, so on many occasions I have incorporated these two great loves.  If you spin a globe, just about any place your finger lands, you will find a wonderful place bristling with history.  Although I am no travel expert, I am happy to share my thoughts of places I have been and those I want to visit because I believe they have historical significance.

Holy Land

For those who are religious, making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is on their ultimate travel bucket list.  For me, I would love to walk the streets of Old Jerusalem, float in the Dead Sea and visit Masada, the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Plus, after watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade I must admit to having wanted to visit Petra.  This city known for its awesome cliff face architecture is located in Arabah, Jordan, and for me a must see.
Athens, Greece

I taught World History for years—so visiting parts of the Ancient World is also on my ultimate travel bucket list. However, the world of Ancient Greece that I taught doesn’t always coincide with modern Athens.  Top spots to see—wandering around the Acropolis, walking around the Parthenon, spending time in the National Archaeological Museum, and being enthralled by the Tower of the Winds.  Should you venture outside Athens, a cruise around the islands would be a must as well as Santorini, Meteora and the Delphi theatre.

Rome, Italy

Okay, if you love the Ancient World and decide to travel to Greece, how can you not visit Rome. 
Plus, just like Indiana Jonessparked my interest in Petra, Roman Holiday is one of the sparks for seeing Rome.  History from different eras are found all over the city—look around and you will see Ancient, Renaissance and Modern Rome.  Highlights include visiting the Colosseum, Forum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon, plus exploring the catacombs and the ancient port of Ostia Antica.  However, no trip to Rome would be complete without visiting the Vatican.  A visit to Vatican City should include St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums.


Cairo, Egypt

Cairo offers a glimpse of the Ancient World colliding with the modern world.  Just outside Cairo is Giza and the Great Pyramids, as well as Saqqara’s step pyramids.  However, any trip to Cairo must include time at a number of the city’s Mosques, a ride down the Nile and at least a day at the Egyptian Museum.  A trip to Old Cairo would include seeing Coptic Cairo and the Coptic Museum, the Greek Church of St. George, and the Ben Ezra Synagogue.  Also, great deals can be had at the Khan El-Khalili, but be prepared to haggle to reach a fair price.


The Great Wall of China

A must see for my ultimate bucket list is the Great Wall of China.  This leftover of the ancient world is a driving reason for me to some day visit China. However, while I’m in Beijing, my list of sites to see includes walking around the Forbidden City, Tiananman Square, and the Temple of Heaven.  On the way to the Great Wall you could spend time in the Ming tombs.  A trip to Xian would be a must in order to see the Terracotta Warriors and Horses.

So, this is my top five world history tour and just a glimpse of what each place has to offer.  What would you include in a must see history bucket list?